Imagine owning a car without any access to gas–as in, there isn’t a drop to be found anywhere (kudos if you have an electric, but read on). Or imagine having home appliances–or an electric car–without electricity. What good would the car or appliances be? Gas and electricity in that scenario are missing resources without which the car and the appliance become basically useless. For some Christians, the local church is a missing spiritual resource.
I speak from experience. The church was a missing spiritual resource for me at one time. I knew fellowship was important, but figured all that required was relationships with other Christians. I knew my need for the word of God. But all my Christian friends and I had Bibles. What more did we need? I eventually came to understand that the organization of the church, under Christ as the head, supplied needs I had previously failed to recognize.
In bygone days many Christians seemed to have a better grasp of the importance of the local church for the Christian life. In my context, however, I’ve met several professing Christians who don’t belong to a local church, and haven’t for some time. I’ve met many others who, in spite of connection to a church, don’t see the local church as essential. Meanwhile, in the blogosphere now there seems to be a certain edgy hipness to severing ties with the local church. My personal experience, the cool factor of churchless Christianity, and my conviction about the essential nature of the church all motivate this post.
How the Church Becomes a Missing Spiritual Resource
It’s easy to see how the church can become a missing spiritual resource. Most of us have heard things like, “Being in a garage doesn’t make you a car, and neither does being in a church make you a Christian.” It makes sense as far as it goes. But we put our cars in garages for good reason. I lived in Oklahoma and have seen what baseball size hail does to cars. It can do a wee bit of damage. Does a Christian disconnected from the visible church make biblical sense? Such a thing is completely foreign to the Bible, except as an aberration (e.g.Namaan). Everywhere you look in the Bible, believers are united to a visible church.
Anyone who has been a regular part of a local church understands all too well how painful life in the church can be: collisions of inflated egos, interpersonal hurt, bitterness, massive leadership failures, and Christians acting like sinners in countless other ways are all too commonplace. Given the difficulties and ensuing pain we experience, it’s easy to write off the church as being devoid of any meaningful value.
A lot of people perceive church as being boring. Who wouldn’t rather be on the slopes, or at the golf course, or at the river, or at the mall, or really anywhere else on Sunday morning? If anything is deemed boring in the United States, you had better bring out the shovels because it’s time to bury it. One might get the impression that the unforgivable sin is being boring. A church can get away with all manner of things without any questions being raised. But woe to the church that fails to entertain.
Likewise, too many churches have drifted away from biblical fidelity. They no longer consider the Bible as authoritative for life and doctrine. For some Christians that drift has raised a sense that the church is irrelevant in the world. For others it has confirmed that the church has an inherent momentum toward unfaithfulness, and ought to be avoided on that account. To fill the void, parachurch organizations proliferate. Participation in these organizations can make churchless Christianity seem entirely plausible.
Even churches that hold to biblical authority may become so grossly introspective as to lose any real compulsion to reach lost people with the gospel. They can be so mired in internal concerns that they have no energy to expend on proclaiming the gospel to a sin-ravaged world. Meanwhile, other churches can succumb to the temptation to preach a gospel of salvation by conservatism, or salvation through the perfect family, or something similar.
Given these factors, and many more that might be identified, it’s tempting to view the church as more of a liability than an asset to the advance of the gospel. It can be difficult to discern any upside for connecting to a local church. Thus, for many professing Christians the church has become a missing spiritual resource. In my next post, I’ll put forward three reasons I believe it shouldn’t remain a missing spiritual resource any longer.